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The Question

(Submitted July 03, 2001)

If, under the Hawking Radiation principle that black holes are capable emitting some sort of radiation, does that mean they are capable of eventually dying or becoming too weak because they are giving off energy?

The Answer

Thank you for your question. You are correct. By emitting Hawking radiation, black holes lose energy and shrink in size as they do so (since from Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 where mass and energy are equivalent). Eventually they will vanish completely, and this process is often referred to as "black hole evaporation." Note that this is a very slow process and only the smallest back holes (many, many orders of magnitude less massive than the sun) will have had time to significantly evaporate over the enter 14 billion year history of the universe.

-- Michael Loewenstein and Amy Fredericks for "Ask an Astrophysicist"

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